Deepak Chahar was getting greedy. He already had 3 for 13, and off the penultimate delivery of his third over, Chahar wanted MS Dhoni to take the review after rapping new man Shahrukh Khan on his back knee with a nip-backer. He rushed towards his captain, sheepish smile on his face, pleading, after the umpire had turned his appeal down. Indicating that the ball was high, Dhoni said, "Chal, chal," asking Chahar to get on with it.
Television replays would prove Dhoni right, and Chahar did not have a problem either. And why would he? He was in the middle of one of the spells of his T20 career, having picked up two wickets already in that over - Chris Gayle and Nicholas Pooran - in addition to the hitting Mayank Agarwal's off stump off the third ball of the Punjab Kings' innings.
The Wankhede Stadium is a small ground where runs have flown smoothly in past IPL seasons. However, in this edition, the powerplay has become the most difficult session for teams batting first there. In four matches including Friday's contest, the highest score in the powerplay had been 46 for 1, posted by the Punjab Kings against the Rajasthan Royals. On Friday, they also recorded the lowest powerplay score so far in Mumbai - 26 for 4, a rocket throw from Ravindra Jadeja having accounted for KL Rahul to go with the Chahar strikes.
It was a complete turnaround for the Super Kings' fast men, who were bruised the other night by the Delhi Capitals' opening pair of Prithvi Shaw and Shikhar Dhawan, who blasted 65 runs in the powerplay while chasing the target. Since then, bowling teams have made clever use of the stickiness in the pitch. On Thursday evening, Shaw and Dhawan, along with the rest of the Capitals' batting order, were drawn into false strokes by the Royals' bowlers. who cut down on the pace on a surface that gripped. The Capitals' strike bowlers also dominated the Royals' top order, making use of the seaming conditions in the evening.
At the toss, Rahul pointed out that it would be important to assess the pitch properly in the first few overs before getting ambitious. Rahul and Co., however, could barely get their eyes in, left gobsmacked by Chahar's variations and cricketing smarts.
The ball that opened up Agarwal was clocked in the 130kph region. It shouldn't have troubled a Test batter, who is used to facing the fresh cherry at much higher speeds, on more testing surfaces. However, with his slingy action and an upright seam, Chahar pitched on a good length, on middle stump, moved it away late, enough to put Agarwal off balance and send the off-stump bail flying. The beauty of the delivery even drew a silent nod of appreciation from Rahul at the non-striker's end.
In the first match, Chahar, Sam Curran and Shardul Thakur had pitched mostly in the slot or given too much width to worry Shaw and Dhawan. Against the Punjab Kings, Chahar was far more disciplined. Gayle had hit him for two consecutive fours in his second over. The first one was against a delivery that Chahar had meant to cramp the batter with, and the second came against a leading edge that flew over slips. Next over, his third, Chahar unleashed one of his go-to balls, the knuckle ball, which was fuller in length, but just 120 kph. Gayle drove with hard hands, and it was whisked inches off the turf by Jadeja - spectacularly. Chahar should actually have sent back Gayle in his first over itself, but Ruturaj Gaikwad had failed to latch on to a hard-hit drive at point. Jadeja replaced Gaikwad in the position.
Chahar then challenged Pooran's ego by banging in a short delivery halfway down the pitch. Pooran had been dismissed for a duck in the Punjab Kings' first match trying to fend off a short delivery. On Friday, he again made a duck, lured into playing one he could have let go considering it was only the second ball he was facing.
Two wickets in three balls and Chahar nearly had a third - the one that wasn't, of Khan. While Dhoni was not generous with his man of the moment, he did know that the conditions and the momentum were in favour of Chahar finishing his quota straightaway. High on energy and success, Chahar did not need to work hard to force another false shot, this time from Deepak Hooda, one of Punjab Kings' best batters in their opening match. Hooda spooned an easy catch to cover against another seaming, away-going delivery.
It was the seventh occasion in the IPL where Chahar had bowled out in one go, the joint most along with former India quick Praveen Kumar. In these seven matches, Chahar has taken ten wickets at an average of 15.70, at an economy of 5.60 against an overall economy of 7.55.
Chahar delivered 18 dots in his four overs on Friday, and his tally of 4 for 13 was his best in the IPL. Little wonder, then, that he was chuffed by the end of it, especially after struggling for form and fitness in IPL 2020, having come into the tournament following a bout of Covid-19.
This IPL has extra significance for Chahar, with a T20 World Cup spot up for the grabs. His strength lies in his variations, and today he executed them brilliantly - effortlessly and accurately.
With stats inputs by Shiva Jayaraman